Early-warning wildfire camera program OK’d by Pitkin commissioners | AspenTimes.com

Early-warning wildfire camera program OK’d by Pitkin commissioners

Alert system will start being installed in July

A helicopter flies over a burning wildfire that broke out on Friday evening from a lightning strike above Lower River Road in Old Snowmass. It was contained by Saturday and burned about 1 acre. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A $50,000 pilot program that will use cameras and artificial intelligence to detect wildfires in Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley will begin next month.

Pitkin County commissioners approved the program Tuesday after hearing a presentation last week by a Silicon Valley-based company that plans to install high-definition cameras capable of scanning 360-degrees every minute on four communication towers located throughout the county.

The program will not, however, cost taxpayers anything because an Aspen-area property owner who knows Aspen Fire Chief Rick Balentine has agreed to donate the money for the experiment, said Jeff Krueger, county telecommunications manager.

The donor is Jerry Hosier, who owns a home on Red Mountain, and has been active in getting homeowners in that area together for wildfire mitigation efforts.

“It’s really nice of him,” Balentine said Wednesday. “He’s a good guy.”

Three of the four cameras will be installed during the second week of July on 60-foot towers on Ajax, Jackrabbit Ridge at Snowmass Village and the Williams Tower, Krueger told commissioners Tuesday. The fourth camera on the 40-foot Upper Red Mountain communications tower will most likely be installed during the last week of July because that tower is undergoing a renovation next month, he said.

The cameras will be in operation from July to November and are designed to quickly identify wildfires using artificial intelligence algorithms so resources can be directed to the area as soon as possible. They will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can see 10-to-15 miles and possibly more on a clear day and have a zoom feature to help triangulate a fire’s location, a representative of the company in charge of the program called Pano told commissioners last week.

Information received by the system, which will be able to detect 95% of wildfires in less than 15 minutes, will first go to Pano so technicians can verify whether the detected fire is real or a false positive before it is sent to a fire department, the company representative said. In the case of Pitkin County, the Aspen Fire Department would receive the first notification of a fire, Balentine said last week.

On Tuesday, Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said she wanted to make sure other fire departments in the Roaring Fork Valley were looped in to the program so they could also take advantage of the early-warning system.

Balentine said anyone in emergency services who wants to be linked to the program can be, though he can’t commit any resources besides those belonging to AFD. The department is working with other agencies to take part in training for the program, he said.

“It’s pretty cool stuff,” Balentiine said.

The program will come into existence just weeks after Pitkin County on Wednesday implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions, which prohibit all campfires, charcoal barbecues and outdoor smoking. The Sylvan Fire burning between Eagle and the Fryingpan Valley increased to more than 3,500 acres Wednesday.

The system also may provide some peace of mind for valley residents with long-term summer weather forecasts predicting above-average temperatures, little rain and windy conditions through Aug. 30, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction.


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